Walter Cronkite, once named the most trusted man in America, has broken his silence and given his stamp of approval to Katie Couric as anchor of the "CBS Evening News."
Cronkite told me last night at a private gathering that he thinks Couric is an excellent choice as successor to the throne he inhabited from 1962 to 1981.
“I think she’s a terrific choice,” Cronkite said. “I’ve followed her ... I knew her work apart from the 'Today' show. She’ll be fine.”
Sitting just adjacent to Cronkite was his lifelong colleague Andy Rooney, who nodded in accord as Cronkite endorsed the choice of Couric by CBS News.
He also praised Bob Schieffer, the current anchor, telling me thought he’d done a very good job since Dan Rather stepped down.
Let’s face it, Cronkite did not like Rather. And he’s been critical of CBS News a lot lately. His approval of Couric goes a long way in solidifying her ascension to the throne.
The occasion for this meeting was a pre-screening cocktail for the documentary “Toots,” about the famed restaurateur Toots Shor .
Shor’s granddaughter, Kristi Jacobson, who made the film, and her producers had invited a select few to join them before the movie was shown as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.
And so to The Beekman Pub, a hidden gem in existence since the mid-1950s, came Cronkite, with his lady friend Joanna Simon; Rooney, baseball legend Yogi Berra and wife Carmen, Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford, famed sportswriter Maury Allen, movie producer David Brown and wife Helen Gurley Brown, and longtime Toots Shor and 21 Club greeter Harry Lavin, who for 27 years was the most powerful man in New York.
Most of these folks are in Jacobson’s film, which traces the history of a grandfather she never knew.
Shor's eatery, which started on West 51st St. across from Radio City Music Hall and eventually moved next to the rival 21 Club on West 52nd St., was long the greatest New York nightspot for celebrities, athletes, politicians, movie stars and writers. This was long before its successor, Elaine’s, which still brings ‘em in week after week.
Lavin was the greeter at Toots until it closed in 1971, and then just moved up the block to 21.
He retired in 2002, but I cannot tell you how good it was to see him last night. I first went to 21 in 1983 and always looked forward to seeing Harry inside the front door. Being a greeter is no small thing; Lavin set the respectful and austere tone at both restaurants, where a tie and jacket were — and still are — required.
I asked him if he’d ever gotten any flack for enforcing that important dress code.
“One guy came in and he said, 'Are you throwing me out because I don’t have a jacket?' And I said, 'I’m not throwing you out, I’m just not letting you in.'" And he meant it.
Yogi Berra, who just turned 81, told me he’ll be at Yankee Stadium today and tries to make one game per series at home stands.
“But it interferes with my golf,” he said. “I love my golf.”
Yogi’s memories of Toots Shor’s?
“Lots of sports players all the time,” he said with a grin. “I went there with Mickey, Billy and Whitey. DiMag” — that’s what he called Joltin’ Joe. “Those were the days.”
Boy, were they ever! His favorite celebrity he ever met there? Marilyn Monroe, maybe? Nope. “Jackie Gleason.”
And as long as we’re on the subject, did he really say all those famous Yogi-isms, like "It ain’t over 'til it’s over," and "It’s déjà vu, all over again"?
“My wife tells me I keep saying them now,” he laughed. And grinned. Yogi has the widest grin I’ve ever seen. “I don’t hear it.”
And here’s something weird: Yogi got introduced to Cronkite. If their paths met before, neither one recalled. Joanna Simon said, “Walter, it’s Yogi Berra.” Cronkite shook his hand. “How did that baseball thing work out for you?” he asked. Yogi laughed.
Frank Gifford, looking especially well, approached Cronkite. “It’s Frank Gifford,” Simon said. (Explanation for this announcing: Cronkite, who has all his marbles at nearly 90, is stone deaf. Getting his attention takes a minute.) Gifford extended his hand to Cronkite, who cracked, “Whatever happened to Frank Gifford?”
In fact, the Giffords made a date with Cronkite and Simon to meet up with them on Martha's Vineyard this summer. Then the Browns, who are up there in the age department, shouted to Cronkite, “See you Sunday!” They were on their way to another event.
Cronkite looked worried. Most of the guests had left for the screening. “We’d better go,” he said, “or they’ll start without us.”
Oh, and since I know you’re wondering: Kathie Lee looked great, has a new musical in the works and couldn’t have been nicer. So there.
Yes, that was Bert Fields, the most infamous Hollywood lawyer of the moment, co-hosting a book party last night at the sensational Core Club for Kathy Freston.
A friend of mine said, “That man is boring holes in your back with his eyes. He’s checking you out.”
Indeed, it was Fields, whose ties to the Anthony Pellicano case have been written about extensively here and in other major publications.
For 78 years old, he looked incredibly fit and youthful. So what if there’s a little scandal? Believe me, he’ll be eating lunch in both towns again, to coin a phrase.
Fields and his art dealer wife Barbara Guggenheim co-hosted Freston’s book party with Rupert and Wendi Murdoch, and Carole Bayer Sager and her husband Bob Daly.
Carole, the well known songwriter, toasted Freston, whose book is called “The One: Finding Soul Mate Love and Making It Last.”
She said, “My name is Carole Bayer Sager Bacharach Daly. But maybe if Kathy had written her book years ago, and I’d read it, I’d have less names now.”
The party was a funny mix of West Coast and East Coast types, some of whom did not know each other.
Bayer Sager — who co-composed “That’s What Friends Are For,” “Nobody Does It Better,” “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” and zillion other hits — was introduced to award-winning actress/writer Anna Deveare Smith; it was clear they’d never even heard of each other. So much for the theory that all famous people are friends.
Kathy Freston, a beauty, is also married to Viacom chief Tom Freston, so the mix also included a variety of A-list media types.
You had actress Patti D'Arbanville, screenwriter Mitch Glazer and his wife, actress Kelly Lynch, Imagine Films chief Brian Grazer, Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — he published the book, Bob Daly himself, jeweler to the stars Loree Rodkin, rock 'n' roll PR guru-ette Myra Scheer, movie producer Beverly Camhe, supermodel Frederique, Ann Jones, Ahmet Ertegun, Jann Wenner, CBS chief Les Moonves, Marianne Williamson, Ken Auletta, Lynn Nesbitt, plus the Murdochs.
And Ann Jones said she was under some gag order not to confirm she’d narrated that Elton John film we saw on Tuesday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom.
Divorced now from Foreigner’s Mick Jones, she picked up Kathy Freston’s book and said, “I’m definitely going to read this now.”
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Neil Young’s extraordinary album, Living with War,” begins streaming today on the singer’s Web site, www.neilyoung.com. You are hearing President Bush’s voice, by the way, on “Let’s Impeach the President.” Young strung together a few of Bush’s more famous pronouncements regarding the Iraq war and used them in the center of the song. To soften the blow of nine anti-war, anti-Bush numbers, the album finishes with a heartfelt singalong of “America the Beautiful." One number, called “The Restless Consumer,” has a refrain — Don’t need/No more lies” catchier than most commercials…
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